By Joey Barnes, Editor-in-Chief
FORT WORTH, Texas – It was just the second race of the season for Harding Racing, but you wouldn’t know it based on how they’ve performed.
Their only ever outing having been a ninth-place result in the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil last month, the team set out to compete at Texas and Pocono before attempting to race the full Verizon IndyCar Series schedule next year.
That top 10 was elevated to a new best finish for the team with a fifth-place result in Saturday night’s thrilling Rainguard Water Sealers 600 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Dodging chaos at every turn, the 23-year-old Colombian navigated through nine cautions in a race of attrition that saw eight cars running at the finish (six on the lead lap).
Much talk was made on Friday after practice and qualifying about the likelihood of being one groove in Turns 1 and 2, which were reconfigured from 24 to 20 degrees and widened from 60 to 80 feet. That mentality combined with a second groove that began to take shape as the 248-lap race wore on, elevated the intensity for all 22 drivers.
“It was (aggressive racing),” said Chaves, driver of the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevrolet.
“When you’ve got one lane, maybe two by the end of the race, everyone is just… to make a pass you have to be so aggressive. You can’t keep everyone happy, right? You try to race clean and as hard as you can, and I think we did a good job of that.”
That driving style brought out some tough racing with defending race winner Graham Rahal, putting on a pass that was deemed not appropriate on lap 237, and was asked by race control to relinquish the spot.
Following the race, Rahal came over to talk with Chaves on pit lane, and attributed the situation to the conditions.
“I mean, when you’re racing that hard and it’s real hard to make a pass, everyone is, not just me, everyone was,” added Chaves.
“So there was just some close calls and people get uncomfortable with that. You can’t keep everyone happy when you’re racing hard. I do the best I can. It’s not all on me, I rely on my spotters too. If they tell me I’m clear, I’m checking, but if I feel that I’m clear, I’m clear, right?
“So it’s a hard call, but you try to do the best you can.”
Overall, two consecutive strong finishes in their only two races, Chaves doesn’t extend a learning curve courtesy to limit the expectations as the team readies for Pocono Raceway in August.
“The goal is always the same, we want to go out there and win,” said Chaves.
“That doesn’t change. Certainly, I think we can build on this momentum.”
As far as what the results prove to everyone what Harding Racing is about as they move forward, Chaves didn’t shy from it.
“I think it just says we’re serious about this, we’re not just here to drive around,” said Chaves.
“We’re serious about this and we want to win. We want to go and keep improving until we win.”